It's no secret that the bodyboarding cohort spend more time slotted under the curtain than stand up folk. The nuance of going prone means you can slip into something a little heavier, faster, and all round more intimidating -- it's just the way it is.
Just ask Pablo Jimenez, who has spent the better part of a decade training his lens on bodyboarders across the globe, from Hawaii to California, Ireland to Indo, Australia and more after deciding to up and leave his home in Chile.
A guide to Chile HERE
When COVID sent the world into meltdown, Pablo was on his annual pilgrimage to the North Shore of Oahu – but managed to scramble home in the knick of time before everything shut down and the outside world went silent.
Now, speaking from home, we caught up with the prolific prone snapper to talk his favourite shots, making it as a bodyboard photographer and how he got started in the biz.
Hey Pablo, tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get started in surf photography?
I Grew up in the City of Viña del Mar in the central coast of Chile, a country that in the surfing world is known for its endless amount of left hand pointbreaks to the south and and heavy slabby reefs in the north.
Well, where I’m from there is none of that. What we find here instead is a massive latin American music festival in the summer, big university nightlife scene in the winter and a couple of punchy beachbreaks that turn on every now and then and can get super fun to ride on a bodyboard, which is the craft I've been sliding on for the past 25 plus years.
When I first started riding waves in the mid 90s, there there was barely anybody surfing around town, most guys out were bodyboarders, but there was always good vibes with the few standup surfers around, we were all a strange breed.
Somehow, I managed to get some decent shots. I was hooked. Broke out my savings got my own DSLR and started shooting like a maniac
The lack of quality waves on a regular basis made me look outside for options of better surf. So I started travelling to northern Chile on a regular basis, soon enough I had that travel bug in me, so when I was 20, I left the country to spend the summer in California, sure enough that summer turned into an eight year mission around the world chasing waves from California to Hawaii, Australia, Indonesia, and Europe.
Seven years in to this and I saw myself barely employed in Co. Donegal in the northwest coast of Ireland. For years I had been thinking about picking up a good camera and taking better photos than what my little cyber shot was giving me at the time.
A friend I had in Bundoran got a Canon 20d and a water housing that we used to take turns with.
Somehow, I managed to get some decent shots. I was hooked. Broke out my savings got my own DSLR and started shooting like a maniac. I guess the beautiful Irish landscapes, the amazing waves, and some of those epic light conditions made a real impression on me.
Long story short. Moved back to Chile in 2009, studied advertising photography, but kept shooting surf up and down the coast, chasing some international surfing at bodyboarding comps. Eventually I got noticed and got hired to shoot the APB bodyboarding events, and some WSL QS events in Arica and it all snowballed from there.
That's quite the journey! And you were on the North Shore this past winter right, tell us a bit about that?
This year I did my eight pilgrimage to the North Shore. No new story here, there is something about this place that keeps people coming back. I’ve personally always seen it as a challenge, a place to grow in the ocean, first with bodyboarding now with photography.
There is so much power and so much talent on that stretch of beach - it's very humbling. I feel there is a lot of learning going on there.
This season was different though, I took it super easy to be honest. The first couple weeks the waves pumped, sunny days, light offshore winds, mid-size swells, just beautiful. Had a couple fun surfs, a few fun swims and then… It started raining, and the wind got funky, and more rain came, and that got me thinking that I was just unlucky with the weather, again… so then it hit me; February! I’m always here in February!
I remember my first time on the North Shore back in 2002 and it was the same thing! and I always get this crazy weather.
No worries I thought, I’ll just chill, staying until late March, it’s always good in March. But it kept on raining.
Meanwhile, Coronavirus was taking over the world, and I must confess, after down playing it for a while I started freaking out a bit. Flights back home were starting to get cancelled, so I changed my ticked and headed back a week earlier.
Sure enough, as soon as I got back home, I looked at the forecast of non-stop epic surf for the rest of March and most of April. Next time I’ll do November [laughs].
Yeah, the surf got really good in April. What are you up to now?
Well, due to Covid, all my photo gigs so far this year, got postponed or cancelled, domestic and overseas.
The situation in Chile... it’s a bit hectic, lockdown in my home town only started in mid-June, and it looks we are going to be here for a while. So working on some future projects, getting some fine art prints happening and posting old photos on Instagram use up most of my days.
As a resident APB photographer, could you walk us through some tips about shooting bodyboarding?
Well, the one tip I always give to people that want to start shooting water is, be comfortable in the ocean. If it’s only small surf you are into, that is fine, but you kneed to know your element and the only way to gain that is by spending time in the ocean, no rush, and have fun.
I personally started, like most, shooting shore breaks with a fisheye and a cheap 50mm on the same dome port I used for shooting from the channel. That setup works wonders.
I guess I’m just another bodyboarder turned photographer but I must say that all the years chasing waves on the boog really paid out when I picked up a camera.
What equipment do you use?
Right now I’m in this weird limbo between my Canon 5dmk4 and my new Sony Alpha 7r3, and switch between both.
In the ocean I been trying different lenses, I believe there is a time for every one, fisheye for the good old inside barrel shots. Sigma 35mm and 50mm 1.4, super standard, love those two.
Canon 85mm 1.8 for some nice wave details and sitting in the Chanel at El Gringo and a 70-200mm f4 that works really good on the point breaks down south. All of this on Aquatech Waterhousing.
Walk us through some of your favourite shots.
This photo is really special for me. I took it during my second year of going to Arica to see the bodyboarding world tour event that was held at El Flopos aka El Gringo.
I showed up by myself that morning and realised there was a fair bit of swell and only a few people out. Before I got closer, I wanted to take a pulled back setup shot, so grabbed my camera out of my bag and started shooting the first empty set that came through. Suddenly I see this body flying out of nowhere doing a massive air forward. I could not believe what had just happened.
Walked all the way to the break and I was told that was Jerred Houston from South Africa and that he had split his board in half landing that.
That afternoon I did what every rookie does, I went and posted the photo online straight away. It got thousands of views and some people gave me shit for giving it away for free. I felt a bit dumb at the time. In the end Movement Magazine from Australia ran the photo anyway, which was my first printed photo in a mag.
Over the years I kept on coming back to Africa, I owe so much of my photography career to El Gringo. Good light conditions are not what the place is known for, making it very challenging to shoot but somehow it always delivers.
This is Tomás Tudela from Peru during one of the warm up free surfs before the QS event that's held there every year. I have a full sequence of him getting barrelled before this shot, but the way he exited the wave with the flock of birds in the background made this on of my favourite shots. This photo actually got me in the final of the 2019 Red Bull Illume Image Quest.
This is Guillermo Satt, one of Chile’s top surfers. I got invited to shoot this fickle wave that breaks on Rapa Nui. I had seen some really good shots of this spot form across the bay from a jet sky. But as far as I know, I was the first guy swimming out there with a camera. We scored it for three days with only a handful of friends sharing the line up. This was on the last day before it turned onshore and earned Guillermo the ride of the year in Chile.
Northern Chile is known for some of the craziest, heaviest slabs in South America. Spots like this break often, but most of the times go unridden. Every now and then, a few chargers like to tackle thins spot. Alan Muñoz is one of them.
Autumn evenings are the best. I went on a mission down the coast with Manuel Selman. On this particular afternoon the tide was a little bit high for this spot, but Manuel decided to get out there anyway.
Rip currents can get bad down there so I just stayed shooting from the beach. I remember trying a few angles but the waves were funky so nothing great was happening. Suddenly I see Many going for one that looks really good, but the wave in front is blocking everything. I can’t see much, I know he is getting barrelled, I freak out and start shooting anyway and boom. The wave in front opens up to this. I loved this moment.
A couple years ago I went on a mission with big wave surfer Cristian Merello to this very remote part of chilean Patagonia. We found an amazing part of the world with some insane waves that most likely had never been surfed before.
I took this setup shot on the last day when we were completely surfed out.
This pot of gold in the middle of the Pacific.